A Celebration of Exploration!

Immrama Festival of Travel Writing beckons in Lismore

Michelle Heffernan Reports

On a damp autumn evening in 2002, something special emerged around a hotel conference table in Lismore.
Business people, civil servants and Waterfordians both native and adopted, came together to discuss the creation of a celebration of both books and the Heritage Town of Lismore, and from those discussions, the Immrama Festival of Travel Writing (June 13th to 17th) was born.
“The concept of a travel writing festival was actually one of three proposals put forward”, says Jan Rotte, the Festival’s Co-ordinator. Few people knew publicly then that an ancient manuscript, The Book of Lismore, had been discovered in a secret room in Lismore castle in the 1800s.
“The book actually contains an Irish translation of Sir Marco Polo’s ‘Il Milione’”, says Jan. As Lismore is also the hometown of Dervla Murphy, one of Ireland’s best known travel writers, the concept of travel writing was even more apt. Indeed, in native folklore and history, the Irish have a well known tradition for undertaking long and often historic journeys.
“The word ‘Immram’ derives from an Old Irish word meaning ‘rowing about”, Jan explained, so “Immrama” evokes our tradition of “eachtraí”, voyages or outings, made by Irish folklore heroes, ancestors and explorers

Immrama Festival Co-ordinator Jan Rotte

Immrama Festival Co-ordinator Jan Rotte


This year’s festival hopes to reawaken the spirit of ‘Immram’ and celebrate the Irish as unmistakable adventurers.
“Over the past few years the festival focus had been on conflict and the situation in the Middle East” says Jan. Indeed in 2016, the Festival theme celebrated “Journeys Through War and Peace” bringing to Lismore Kim Phuc Phan Ti, the (then) nine-year-old child shown in that Pulitzer Prize winning photo of the Vietnam War.
“Our 2018 programme has moved away from conflicts, as important as they may be,.” says Jan, “and focused more on the origin of travel writing and exploration”.
The celebration of exploration begins with a bang on Wednesday, June 13th when author John Devoy, details his journeys through Africa, and the reality of navigating the Nile basin or Rwandan mountains without so much as an iPhone.
Lismore Native Isambard Wilkinson will speak of his travels in the Far East at Immrama 2018

Lismore Native Isambard Wilkinson will speak of his travels in the Far East at Immrama 2018


His adventurous spirit is just matched by Lismore native Isambard Wilkinson, who on Thursday the 14th will present his colourful memoir “Travels in a Dervish Cloak”. Wilkinson’s urge to roam is clearly insatiable, and despite kidney transplant surgery, he has travelled to the depths of Pakistan, exploring the mystical homeland at the heart of a country marred by violence.
Undoubtedly a highlight of the festival will come Saturday afternoon with best-selling author and polar-exploration authority Michael Smith, travels to Lismore.
Smith has written nine books in total, including the highly successful biography of Tom Crean -“An Unsung Hero”. As his books now form part of the Irish school curriculum ,
Smith will present to local primary school children during the festival, and his Saturday presentation on “Discovering Ireland’s History and Ireland’s Antarctic Explorers” is certain to draw huge numbersAside from mesmerising talks on adventures in exotic lands, Immrama evokes the spirit of exploration through adult and children’s workshops, as well as family friendly fun and food.
On the morning of Saturday, June 16th, published poet Dr Robyn Rowland will offer a special poetry workshop titled “Journeys; Exploring the World with Mind, Body and Spirit”. Children can also enjoy similar interactive fun with ‘Antarctic Workshops for Children’ at the Lismore Heritage Centre.Sunday, June 17th will focus on family friendly entertainment too with a delightful farmers market at the beautiful Lismore castle, as well as free family entertainment with Booley House at the Millennium Park from 2 to 5pm.
Pictured in Lismore Castle gardens ahead of the festival weekend is Pat Williams (FDC Accountants, Festival Sponsor), committee members Orla Russell, Donal O’Brien, Neill Twomey, Aoife McCabe (Lismore Heritage Centre and festival sponsor, committee members Edward Lynch, Helen Leddy and Paud O’Reilly and Tony Dowd FDI (Floral Distribution of Ireland Ltd, festival sponsor).					 | Photo: Mary Browne

Pictured in Lismore Castle gardens ahead of the festival weekend is Pat Williams (FDC Accountants, Festival Sponsor), committee members Orla Russell, Donal O’Brien, Neill Twomey, Aoife McCabe (Lismore Heritage Centre and festival sponsor, committee members Edward Lynch, Helen Leddy and Paud O’Reilly and Tony Dowd FDI (Floral Distribution of Ireland Ltd, festival sponsor). | Photo: Mary Browne


The Immrama Festival of Travel Writing is certainly “aimed at all age groups” says Jan, rather than catering solely for bookish aficionados. The festival is based on telling stories, rather than literary readings, and “a visitor can expect to hear anecdotes and stories”, as well as “first hand experiences of meeting other people and cultures”. It’s a very balanced line-up,” said Jan, who added: “Personally, I am looking forward to the Saturday evening presentation by Jacki Hill-Murphy,” he says. Ms Hill-Murphy is famous for travelling to some of the most dangerous, inhospitable parts of the world to retrace the footsteps of past female explorers. Jan is excited to hear about the “adventures of women explorers in the 18th and 19th Century, as well as Jacki’s own experience in retracing these journeys” Overall, the Immrama Festival of Travel Writing promises five days of fabulous journeys into unknown territories, certainly celebrating the exploratory spirit of the Irish, past and present. Between public lectures, workshops, celebrity journalists and primary school kids, Jan has just one objective for this year’s festival: “a very successful and enjoyable weekend” for all. Sounds like a plan Jan! We’ll see you there.

For full programme listings, see www.lismore-immrama.com. Tickets are booked for individual events, weekend ticket for all events comes to €90; Joint Saturday ticket available for €40. To book call 058- 53803/058- 54975 or email info@lismoreimmrama.com

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